DYER STRAITS: Artificial Intelligence threat

It may be hard to write an algorithmic moral code strong enough to constrain and contain super-smart software.

The experts run the whole gamut from A to B, and they’re practically unanimous: artificial intelligence is going to destroy human civilization.

Expert A is Elon Musk, polymath co-founder of PayPal, manufacturer of Tesla electric cars, creator of Space X, the first privately funded company to send a spacecraft into orbit, and much else besides. “I think we should be very careful about Artificial Intelligence (AI),” he told an audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in October. “If I were to guess what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”

Musk warned AI engineers to “be very careful” not to create robots that could rule the world. Indeed, he suggested that there should be regulatory oversight “at the national and international level” over the work of AI developers, “just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”

Expert B is Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous theoretical physicist and author of the best-selling unread book ever, A Short History of Time. He has a brain the size of Denmark, and last Monday he told the British Broadcasting Corporation that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Hawking has a motor neurone disease that compels him to speak with the aid of an artificial speech generator. The new version he is getting from Intel learns how Professor Hawking thinks, and suggests the words he might want to use next. It’s an early form of AI, so naturally the interviewer asked him about the future of that technology.

A genuinely intelligent machine, Hawking warned, “would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” So be very, very careful.

Musk and Hawking are almost 50 years behind popular culture in their fear of rogue AI turning against human beings (HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey). They are a full 30 years behind the concept of a super-computer that achieves consciousness and instantly launches a war of extermination against mankind (Skynet in the Terminator films).

Then there’s The Matrix, Blade Runner and similar variations on the theme. It’s taken a while for the respectable thinkers to catch up with all this paranoia, but they’re there now. So everybody take a tranquilizer, and let’s look at this more calmly. Full AI, with capacities comparable to the human brain or better, is at least two or three decades away, so we have time to think about how to handle this technology.

The risk that genuinely intelligent machines which don’t need to be fed or paid will eventually take over practically all the remaining good jobs  —  doctors, pilots, accountants, etc. — is real. Indeed, it may be inevitable. But that would only be a catastrophe if we cannot revamp our culture to cope with a great deal more leisure, and restructure our economy to allocate wealth on a different basis than as a reward for work.

Such a society might well end up as a place in which intelligent machines had “human” rights before the law, but that’s not what worries the sceptics. Their fear is that machines, having achieved consciousness, will see human beings as a threat (because we can turn them off, at least at first), and that they will therefore seek to control or even eliminate us. That’s the Skynet scenario, but it’s not very realistic.

The saving grace in the real scenario is that AI will not arrive all at once, with the flip of a switch. It will be built gradually over decades, which gives us time to introduce a kind of moral sense into the basic programming, rather like the innate morality that most human beings are born with. (An embedded morality is an evolutionary advantage in a social species.)

Our moral sense doesn’t guarantee that we will always behave well, but it certainly helps. And if we are in charge of the design, not just blind evolution, we might even do better. Something like Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which the Master laid down 72 years ago.

First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Not a bad start, although in the end there will inevitably be a great controversy among human beings as to whether self-conscious machines should be kept forever as slaves. The trick is to find a way of embedding this moral sense so deeply in the programming that it cannot be circumvented.

As Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil has observed, however, it may be hard to write an algorithmic moral code strong enough to constrain and contain super-smart software.

We probably have a few decades to work on it, but we are going to go down this road — the whole ethos of this civilization demands it — so we had better figure out how to do that.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

 

Just Posted

This parking on the east side of Martin Street will be removed permanently Monday morning (June 21, 2021) to put in the Lake to Lake bike lane. (City of Penticton)
Parking removed permanently to make way for bike lane in downtown Penticton

Work begins Monday morning to replace parking spots with bike lane on Martin Street

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

Gord Portman getting ready for the Father’s Day dunk tank fundraiser for Discovery House. So far Portman has raised $3,000. (Facebook)
Penticton man takes the plunge for recovery house that helped save his life

Gord Portman said Discovery House and Pathways have been everything in his 1 year sobriety

(File photo)
Supreme Court Justice rules Bay has to pay Penticton’s Cherry Lane mall

The ruling found that there had been no unavoidable delay preventing the Bay from paying their rent

Summerland cidery Millionaires' Row is hosting a Father's Day car and art show. (Facebook)
Vintage cars, art and cider for Father’s Day

Summerland’s Millionaires’ Row Cider Co. is hosting the car and art show

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Most Read